This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, December 24, 1997

December 24, 1997 - Excursion Train Program

My son Perry is crazy about trains. He always has been. So for us, Christmas will be (again) a snarl of tracks and steam engines and train books and videos.

But it turns out that you don’t have to be three-and-a-half years old to be a train buff.

Johanna Harden, Archivist of our Local History Collection, recently presented me with an information folder on the Royal Gorge/Tennessee Pass Steam Excursion. You might have seen the historic train come puffing through Douglas County this past June. It left Denver and passed through the Royal Gorge and Tennessee Pass on its way to the National Railway Historical Society’s annual meeting in Salt Lake City. The excursion train slowed traffic on I-25 for miles, as people pulled over and waved at the proud Union Pacific #844 steam engine.

Or maybe you missed it. That’s too bad, especially since the Royal Gorge/Tennessee pass route was officially closed on August 23, 1997. No trains are now running on the former D&RGW tracks.

But do not despair. You can step back into time and relive the whole trip -- through video, slides, and human memory -- simply by attending a program on January 11, 1998, at 2 p.m., at the Commissioner’s Hearing Room in the Philip S. Miller Administration Building at 100 Third Street, Castle Rock.

Entitled “Riding the Cushions,” the multi-media presentation is part of our Local History Collection program series 1997-98 (see below for the list of remaining programs). So far, all of our programs have been blessed with extraordinary speakers. “Riding the Cushions” boasts three such speakers, each with a very different view of the excursion. Steve Patterson BNSF locomotive engineer on the Joint Line (which runs just west of the Philip S. Miller Library), was a passenger on the excursion train.

Our second speaker is Stephen A. Lee, Union Pacific Railroad, Manager of Train Operating Practices, is one of two steam locomotive experts in the United States. I’ve read his article “So, you want to run a steam locomotive” (in “Trains,” July 1989) in which he shows the fifty-six (yes,56) valves, gears and switches that make up the nerve center of a steam locomotive. He’ll be discussing the technical side of the trip.

Our third speaker is Eric Sondeen, a lieutenant of the Littleton Fire Department, who worked as a car attendant on the excursion. Lt. Sondeen, like our other two speakers, is also a member of Operation Lifesaver, which seeks to prevent train collisions. The Douglas Public Library District is thus far the only public library in Colorado to invite Operation Lifesaver to give public presentations.

You can bet Perry and I will be there.

Here’s a list of the 3 other Local History Collection programs (also held at 2 p.m. in the same location):

February 8 - “History by Mail:” Douglas County & Colorado Postal History, featuring James Ozment, and Erwin Engert.

March 8 - “Letters Home:” Love Letters to Baby Doe, a soldier’s words to his parents, Lizzie Smith’s first Christmas on West Plum Creek 1872, and more.

May 17 - National Historic Preservation Week 1998 Celebration, A Concert of Civil War Era Music, featuring the Fourth Artillery Regimental Band, For D.A. Russell, Wyoming Territory.

All the programs, sponsored by the Douglas Public Library District’s Local History Collection, are free and open to the public.

For more information, called Johanna Harden at 303-814-0795.

Wednesday, December 17, 1997

December 17, 1997 - Cults and New Faiths

I recently received a written complaint about a book called Cults and New Faiths. Published in 1981, it was written by one John Butterworth, editor of a newspaper in Northern England.

For the very first time since I have received such a complaint, I am going to remove the book from our collection. Let me tell you why.

The nature of the complaint was that the information in the book about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints was incorrect. The book labeled Mormonism a "cult" and cast aspersions on both its origins and its theology. Also branded cults were Christian Science, Eckankar, Jehovah's Witnesses, Scientology, and others. The term "cult" was never defined. The "new faiths" (also undefined) included Bahai'i, Freemasonry, Rastafarianism, and Transcendental Meditation!

In my formal response, I said that the issue was not whether the views of the author are true. The way I see it, most of what's in print these days is slanted in one direction or another. But the public library is in the business of collecting books, largely the offerings of mainstream publishing houses; it is not in the business of either editing those books or endorsing their contents. We do try, however, to achieve some balance in our coverage of various issues.

An example is the topic of abortion. Some support a woman's right to choose. Others believe that abortion is murder. Hence there are books both for and against abortion, both of which may be found in our collection. The same situation exists for a host of sometimes controversial topics: environmentalism, homosexuality, welfare, evolution, and on and on. In other words, our materials reflect some of the views and biases of the authors now writing on the subjects. The library has neither the means nor the wisdom to "correct" those views. Again, the mission of the public library is not to decide who is right. We reflect the views of our culture, and provide a place for members of the public to examine those views, and make up their own minds.

In the area of religion, it is even more difficult to get at the "truth." Butterworth, an English newspaper editor, holds up various faiths to his own yardstick -- some form of Christianity, although he never says which denomination. According to that yardstick, every other faith is found wanting. Such a view might be extremely offensive not only to Christian Scientists and Mormons, but also to the Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim reader.

But just because a view is offensive doesn't mean that it's wrong. It doesn't mean that it's right, either. It is simply the viewpoint of the author, whose name appears right there on the cover, and whose statements can be considered, further investigated, adopted in whole or in part, or utterly rejected.

So I do not believe the book should be removed on the basis of its content, however superficial. (And it is superficial. Most faiths get two-to-four pages of coverage, with lots of sidebars and photographs.) Moreover, the book has some historical value. It captures a certain perspective from the late 1970's. Such data is of potential interest to the social historian. The topic of cults is of undeniable interest to our patrons, who have checked out this book at least three times a year for many years in a row.

The problem is that the Douglas Public Library District is not an academic institution, determined to preserve historical records on all topics. We seek to maintain a relatively current collection. By our standards, the book Cults and New Faiths is in poor physical condition and very dated. It is not generally acknowledged as a key work in the field. In fact, we should have "weeded" it from our shelves some time ago. ("Weeding" is librarian shorthand for the part of collection management that removes older items to make way for new ones.)

So although the library must resist adopting the role of public censor, it would be contrarian to keep a book just because someone complained about it, when our standard procedures should have removed it for other reasons.

My decision, therefore, was to remove the book. We will, however, replace it with a more current title or titles on the same topic.

Wednesday, December 10, 1997

December 10, 1997 - Video Loan Periods

Every now and then, we get a patron suggestion for a basic change in how we do business. One of the more recent suggestions was to change the loan period for all videos to one week.

This notion came to us by way of a written comment card (you’ll see them scattered around our libraries). Every other week our library managers get together to keep apprised of each other’s activities, and to kick around any issues that have surfaced. The library manager who received the suggestion (Holly Deni at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock) then raised the suggestion at the managers meeting.

We have a bias about patron suggestions: we prefer to take them. The loan period for our videos started out as 2 days, mostly because we didn’t have very many of them, and wanted to keep them moving. Then, back in 1996, we moved the non-instructional videos to the way it is right now.

We have two different video loan periods. One of them is for 4 days. This applies to the basic non-instructional video. The other is for 7 days, which applies to how-to videos and educational videos.

But there’s something decidedly inconsistent about this. It’s confusing for staff AND for our patrons to have to keep track of two different due dates for what seems to be the same kind of material. In short, the patron had a good idea.

So it passed the manager review. Then we ran it past front line staff to see if they could think of any problems with it.

The most significant staff concern had to with “holds.” Right now, we usually buy an extra copy of something (except for the big blockbusters) for every four requests. Would the fact that videos checked out longer mean longer waits, and therefore more holds, and therefore more purchases of videos?

So we took a look at what winds up on hold. And we learned that while we do a fairly brisk business in videos, they don’t account for many of the holds. People tend to check out what they find on the shelves.

As it happens, all of our video shelves are getting a little crowded, and in some of our libraries, we’re running out of new room to put extra shelving. This is particularly so at Highlands Ranch and the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock: our building expansions at these locations are still a ways off. So the longer long period meant that we should be able to display a few more videos in less space.

In sum? The change made our procedures more consistent and therefore easier to remember, and gave us a little more breathing space.

Our only other issue was statistics. We track all kinds of materials uses, and it’s tidier to change loan periods at the beginning of the year.

So effective January 1, 1998, all our videos will check out for 1 week. Until then, it’s business as usual.

Our other limits on video use remain: there is no grace period for video checkouts. Overdue videos will be charged at fifty cents a day, up to $5.00. (That’s so you remember that even if they’re overdue, it’s cheaper to bring them back than to have to pay for their replacement.)

So there it is. Thanks to our patron for a good idea, and to our staff for giving it thoughtful consideration.

Wednesday, December 3, 1997

December 3, 1997 - Still Oakes Mill

Last week's front page headline was "Oakes Mill Library to be renamed." The first sentence of the story, written by Kathie Metcalf, declared that a new name was decided at a public input meeting on November 19.

Um, no. It wasn't. The sole purpose of the meeting was to gather public input to present to the Library Board of Trustees, in combination with other e-mail messages, phone calls and letters I've received on the topic. Only the Board of Trustees can change the name of the library, and they have not yet voted to do so. I not only made this point several times verbally at the meeting, I also wrote in big letters on a flip chart: "no decision tonight."

Further, I hope I made my own position clear: I will recommend to the Board that they hold off on a name change until just before the new library opens. With luck, the quality of the building will inspire someone to want to pay for the privilege of having it named after him or her. Such a "naming opportunity" (bidding begins at $100,000!) would enable us to make significant upgrades to the library at no taxpayer expense.

On November 19, after going through each of the options -- Oakes Mill, Oakes Mill at Lone Tree, Lone Tree, and a naming opportunity -- I did ask for a show of hands for the various options, a straw poll to give each person in attendance the opportunity to indicate support. This poll clearly split along neighborhoods. Lone Tree residents supported "Lone Tree Library." Acres Green residents supported the name "Oakes Mill Library at Lone Tree" rather than just "Oakes Mill Library."

I've been thinking about that. From other avenues of public comment, I know that many Acres Green residents were strongly opposed to "Lone Tree Library." But the meeting on November 19 was about more than the name of a library. It was about the building of community. I stated there, and pointedly restate here, that the library seeks to be a bridge, not a wall, between the communities of Acres Green and Lone Tree. The library has taken great pains to be scrupulously fair to the viewpoints of our patrons, and to give reasoned deliberation to our alternatives. Everyone is welcome at the library.

I believe those Acres Green participants in the meeting offered the compromise name as something of an olive branch, a genuine attempt at reconciliation. That's very much to their credit. But it still doesn't constitute a "decision." Again, until the Library Board decides otherwise, the name of the new library is the same as the old one: Oakes Mill.

I was encouraged by the fact that residents of both communities made it a point to say how much they valued the library. Historically, both Acres Green and Lone Tree are still young. It takes time to build a set of shared values. It also takes time to work out a process by which people can speak their minds and come to consensus. That process begins with people sitting down together to discuss things.

On behalf of our Board of Trustees, I'd like to express my thanks to all the people who have taken the time to talk to us -- and to each other.

Wednesday, November 26, 1997

November 26, 1997 - Reading Scores

I’ve been measuring my own experience as a parent, as a former home educator, as a librarian, as a charter school advocate and former charter school board member, and as a passionate believer in the importance of high quality public education, against the recently published results of reading and writing scores throughout Colorado.

On the one hand, like most parents, I suffer from the “Lake Wobegon Effect.” I want to believe that my children are “above average.” As local taxpayers, we likewise want our local school district to be above average. Well, the Douglas County School District 4th grade students ARE above the state average.


There’s the sociological analysis. Douglas County has a relatively homogeneous population. Most of our students’ parents are white, well-educated, white collar workers. All else being equal, that analysis alone tends to place us statistically “above average.”

Another factor is based on research I’ve cited in this column several times, but bears repeating. In 1992, the Library Research Office of the Colorado State Library conducted a study. It demonstrated conclusively that the greatest single predictor of Colorado student success in reading (itself a reliable predictor of academic success generally) was the presence of a well-funded school library. The study was adjusted for general funding. In other words, strong school libraries (with lots of books and trained staff) were more important than the per capita income of the various student families, or the income of the school. Douglas County school libraries are better than the state average, particularly in the book-to-student ratio. So are our reading scores.

Some pundits argue that the whole issue of 4th grade student achievement in reading and writing reduces to a single educational thrust: phonics versus whole language. That’s nonsense. As any home schooler with more than one child can tell you, some children need phonics, and some don’t. It should be provided to those who do, as promptly as possible. In my opinion, phonics is a very good place to start with all students. But you don’t learn to love reading, you don’t learn the rhythm of speech and written language, by phonics drills.

Let me be absolutely clear: the more books and magazines you read, the better you read and write. Reading, not classroom instruction, is the key to better reading scores. That’s why not only school libraries are important to the education of your child, but also the regular use of a public library.

Yet another factor is curriculum. Charter schools tended to test very well in the state, in particular those schools based upon the Core Knowledge Curriculum (even more particularly the Core Knowledge Institute of Parker). Such schools differ from most public schools in our district in that they are focused around a remarkably specific set of curricular expectations.

Speaking as a strong advocate of the Core Knowledge Curriculum, as one who has served on a district curricular advisory committee, and as one who reads widely in the area of public education (albeit as a layman), I can’t help but view this as confirmation of my prejudices. In brief: a clear, demanding curriculum sets a higher standard of performance. That higher set of expectations results in a higher level of student achievement. In my opinion, the curriculum (to the extent such exists at all) of general public education in this state still trails the Core Knowledge Curriculum in clarity and consistency.

You will no doubt draw your own conclusions from the reading score data. Here are mine: aside from such broad social factors as the education and income of the parents, the greatest single influence in a child’s education is parental involvement in instruction. If children are lucky enough to have parents who check their homework every night, those children will outperform their peers. Educational reform starts at home.

The second greatest influence in the child’s education is the presence and use of a well-stocked and well-staffed school (and/or public) library. The third is the presence of a demanding and well-defined curriculum.

But regardless of your take on these matters, here’s one thing surely we can all agree on: the education of our young must be one of our most important concerns. It’s a subject that deserves our most vigorous debate, and most honest appraisal. To that end, the publication of local and statewide reading scores is a big step in the right direction.

Wednesday, November 19, 1997

November 19, 1997 - Noise in the library

When I was an undergrad, I had a friend whose roommate flipped out.

My friend came back from a class to find (let’s call him) Joe cowering in a corner of the room. Every electric device, table lamp, radio, stereo, amplifier, receiver, was pointed away from him, towards the door. Joe himself would have been completely naked, except that he was wrapped in aluminum foil.

In the (as you can imagine) somewhat confused conversation that followed, it turned out that Joe had been thinking. Earlier that day, when he turned on the radio and sounds blared forth, Joe suddenly realized that all kinds of invisible but very real pulses were at every moment radiating through his body. And the more he thought about it, the more he realized that his body really wasn’t his. It was a conductive medium. Hence the aluminum foil.

On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss all this as the chemically induced chaos that prevailed on many college campuses in the late sixties and early seventies.

On the other hand, Joe may have been onto something. I recently sat through a meeting with some fire department and emergency response types. In the course of the meeting, every one of these people had their beepers go off. Nobody, as it happened, ever left the room.

And I remembered Joe. Back then, it was just radio. These days, it’s radio and satellite TV and cell phones and pagers. Surely, at the cellular level, it can’t be doing our bodies any good to have all these signals beaming through them.

These thoughts resurfaced at a recent staff discussion about a new issue in our libraries. Noise.

It is unquestionably true that the libraries of today are noisier than the libraries of my childhood. But every place else is louder, too. Movie theaters. School rooms. Even funeral homes. It’s not a library change. It’s a societal change.

In a generation raised on multiple TV’s and cell phones and video games and CD players with headphones and PC speakers, in a time when there may be only a few square miles left on the globe where you can’t hear the roar of a jet, it could be that we have forgotten the meaning of silence.

But much like Joe, people have begun to demonstrate increasing intolerance for things as they are. Do we have more children crying, and at the same time more parents oblivious to the sound? Probably not. We DO have more library patrons who cannot TOLERATE such sounds.

I suspect that behind the sometimes unreasonable expectations of these patrons (“It’s your JOB to shut everyone up!”) lies the very real longing for sanctuary. They want a place where they just won’t be bothered. They want a place where, for a change, there’s no background noise, a place where they can listen to themselves think.

Is that totally out of line? No. Will it take some significant revisions in the way libraries do business these days? It might.

Our librarians have begun talking about how we can make our libraries a little quieter. We’ve got some ideas. We could start whispering. Seriously. Library staff set the tone for what’s acceptable.

We could turn down our phone bells and replace phone paging with voice mail.

We could step up our campaign to educate the children who attend our story times about “library voices.” We could start a more vigorous enforcement of quiet when patrons yell across the library to their children to shut up, or when they pull cell phones out of their briefcases, or when they launch into conversations that more properly belong outside.

And this is the tricky one. Can we in fact expect that our patrons will understand when we ask them to pipe down, or to whisk away their children when they have become disruptive of what many people seek in libraries -- a holy silence? How do we communicate this new expectation?

Your thoughts on this matter are hereby solicited. E-mail me at jaslarue@earthlink.net, or write me at 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock CO 80104.

You can also call me at 688-8752. But keep it down, eh?

Wednesday, November 12, 1997

November 12, 1997 - Merging of Newspapers

As previously reported by this paper, the owners of the Douglas County News-Press recently acquired the Highlands Herald.

For News-Press readers, my column is familiar. I’ve been writing it for the past seven years. Readers of the Herald, however, are probably wondering what happened to Cindy Murphy’s column. Cindy has been writing for the Herald for ten years about library goings-on, all of her columns packed with useful information.

Fear not. Cindy is still working for the library, still buzzing around the county, still baking brownies as necessary (and it’s surprising just how often it IS necessary). She’s still writing newspaper columns, too, just not here.

It happens that Cindy and I used to alternate columns for another Douglas County newspaper (Parker’s Weekly News Chronicle). When my column got merged across two papers, she inherited the other one full-time.

So since my column is new to some people, and since it’s always the case that some people are new to Douglas County, I thought I’d take the time to say what the Douglas Public Library District is, and what you’re liable to find in this column.

DPLD (the Douglas Public Library District) is, like many Douglas County entities, fairly young. We were formed, by taxpayer vote, as an independent taxing district in November, 1990. Before that time, we were an impoverished department of Douglas County government. The district includes the following service locations:

Highlands Ranch Library (791-7703), 48 W. Springer Drive, Highlands Ranch;

Louviers Library (791-7323), Louviers Village Club House;

Oakes Mill Library (under construction through next summer, although we should shortly have a bookmobile at 8827 Lone Tree Parkway, Lone Tree);

Parker Library (841-3503), 10851 S Crossroads Drive, Parker;

Philip S. Miller (688-5157), 961 S. Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock;

as well as “satellite” operations at the Roxborough and Cherry Valley Elementary Schools. We also operate a Books by Mail program for residents of the community of Deckers.

With the exception of Louviers, Roxborough, and Cherry Valley, our libraries are open 7 days a week: Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday 1-5 p.m.

Most of our libraries offer children’s story times every week day, and in some cases, several times a day. Call for exact schedules, or look for the calendar elsewhere in this paper.

All of our libraries also offer, in addition to hundreds of thousands of new materials, the ability to place those materials “on hold,” either in person, or by connecting your computer to ours. Patrons (that’s you) can direct that the items be sent to a particular library for convenient pick-up. Speaking of computers, we have an always developing World Wide Web site, too, at http://douglas.lib.co.us.

Yet another service is “reference.” Yes, we pay people to answer your questions, by phone or in person. For free. Whether it’s a consumer question, a homework resource, or a business question, you’ll find that our reference staff are eager to track down the right answer.

DPLD is the 7th busiest library in the state. Our population is far from the 7th largest. What that means is that our patrons are among the heaviest library users you’ll find. But we also offer a free literacy tutoring service.

What will you find in this column? I promise to use the word “library” at least once each week. Beyond that, I might talk about new services, issues library staff are grappling with, or any of a number of things I’ve been reading or thinking about that have some bearing on the role of the library in Douglas County.

If you want to contact me, my phone is 688-8752. You can also write me care of Philip S. Miller Library, or e-mail me at jaslarue@earthlink.net.net.

Generally speaking, I also try to have some fun. After all, I’m the director of a library. Libraries are the best places in the whole world. Why shouldn't I be enjoying myself?

Wednesday, November 5, 1997

November 5, 1997 - Oakes Mill Naming

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
- Romeo and Juliet, II, ii, 43

After this week, the Oakes Mill Library, in existence for over a decade, will be no more. The old building will be torn down. Construction will begin immediately on a more expansive (over twice as large), all-on-one-level building which will take its place. We hope it will be open before the end of summer in 1998. (In the meantime, we will offer services from a bookmobile parked at the same site.)

At the regular October 1997 meeting of our Library Board of Trustees, the City of Lone Tree made a formal request. As a newborn civic entity, Lone Tree is seeking to establish a stronger sense of place and of community. We were asked to consider renaming the library -- or rather, naming the new library -- "Lone Tree Library."

Certainly, there is some logic in the request. "Lone Tree Library" says where the building is located, after the fashion of our Highlands Ranch, Louviers, and Parker libraries. Such a name would aid the new Douglas County resident in finding us, and there are a lot of new residents.

But sometimes, what a library is called is very important to its users, and even a matter of some emotion. So before the Board takes any action, we're holding a public meeting at 7 p.m., November 19 (a Wednesday). The nearest public meeting space TO the library is at the Lone Tree Civic Center, at the northeast corner of Lone Tree Parkway and Sweetwater, just west of the current library. So that's where our meeting will be held.

There are three other options which will also be presented for public consideration.

First is to leave the name as it is. Back in 1984, the Trustees announced a county-wide contest for the naming of the building. The winning entry was written by Hilda E. Anderson of the Douglas County Historical Society. Major D.C. Oakes established at least one, and perhaps several saw mills in Douglas County, one of which may have been near Lone Tree. In the 1860's, "Oakes Mill" (also known as "Oaksville") even had a Post Office. In 1861, it was briefly considered as a possibility for the county seat of Douglas. But given that it was "only a lumber mill site," the nod was given to another community -- Franktown.

In short, the name "Oakes Mill Library" captured a bit of Douglas County history that was otherwise obscure. Given that the funding for the library then (and now) came from the entire county, and no municipality was then in existence, this seemed most fitting. It also did for the county library system just what the City of Lone Tree seeks for itself: establish some sense of place and tradition.

A second option is to merge two traditions into one: "Oakes Mill Library at Lone Tree." It even has a very contemporary sound to it.

A third option is to do what the library did for our Philip S. Miller Library, and attempted to do for our Parker Library: offer the naming of a library as a fundraising opportunity. While the district has sufficient funds to build a fine library, this is a good time to raise private funds as well. Such funds can make a profound difference in the level of internal finishes and other amenities. In Parker, no one donor sought this honor, but hundreds of lesser donations kept us well under our construction budget. Names of various community members showed up in paved bricks, in the purchase of a small fountain, and in various other touches. Those touches, coming from local residents instead of a county mill levy, make it feel like "home."

To the north, the Koelbel Library reflects a $250,000 cash donation. Our Oakes Mill Library is one quarter the size of Koelbel; I believe the Board would consider a comparably sized reduction in the donation.

A mailing has gone out to all current library card holders in the 80124 zip code area. Our November 19th meeting will help us to gather useful information for the Board, which they will use to make a decision at some later date. Please join us to give your considered opinion on what you think we should call this "rose" of a new library.

Wednesday, October 29, 1997

October 29, 1997 - Programs, Making Democracy Work, Francis McGuire

This week I have several items.

First, at our Parker Library, on October 30, we'll be holding our traditional (seven years in a row) evening of Scary Stories. At 7 p.m. we have our "Tales for the Fainthearted," designed for children ages 3 to 8 and their parents. This session has lots of audience participation and some guaranteed laughs.

At 7:30 comes our "Tales for the Stouthearted." Intended for older children and adults, drawn from folklore, these stories have a different guarantee: they'll creep up on you. The Friends of the Parker Library will provide cookies and apple cider -- ample fortification before a night of trick 'r treating.

Second, just after Halloween, at all of our libraries, we'll be launching our 1997-1998 Winter Reading Program. Public libraries usually offer just one reading program a year, almost always in the summer. The Douglas Public Library District hosts 3 reading programs in twelve months. Given that Douglas County Schools are also year-round, this keeps children involved in books through every season.

This year's winter program is called "Stampede to Read." It begins November 1, and will end on January 31. Registering for the program is simplicity itself. Ask about it at the circulation desk beginning November 1. Participants must read (and record in a provided reading log) at least 15 books. Readers may also enter a drawing for free general admission tickets to the national Western Stock Show. Not only that, there's a prize for the successful completion of the program. (Frankly, reading is its own reward. But some young readers don't figure that out right at the beginning.)

Third, those of you scrambling to make up your minds about various issues on the November ballot should know about a program called "Making Democracy Work." In conjunction with the League of Women Voters of Douglas County, and with the particular support of the Douglas County News-Press, the Douglas Public Library District has assembled two sources of political information. The first can be found in notebooks at the reference desks at our libraries in Castle Rock, Highlands Ranch, and Parker. These notebooks contain (for instance) newspaper profiles of school board candidates, as well as information about state-wide issues.

The second source of information is on the World Wide Web. Available at http://douglas.lib.co.us/mdw/ (for Making Democracy Work), our web page offers comprehensive links not only to local news stories, but to state and even national web sites.

This is very much an experiment for the library. Our aim is to offer one-stop shopping for the person determined to cast a knowledgable vote. We plan to continue the effort. Next year should be even better.

Fourth, although at this writing we haven't nailed down the details, I think we have good news for patrons of the Oakes Mill Library. Last week I reported that our plans for a temporary building fell through. If all goes well, by the middle of November we'll have a small bookmobile parked at the site of the new Oakes Mill Library. It won't have as many items as we'd originally planned. But it will enable local residents to order and pick up materials from the rest of the district, and provide a continuing library presence throughout the construction project.

Fifth, finally, but far from least, is the recent death of a dear friend and former library trustee. Francis Maguire died on October 16, 1997. A trustee from 1980 to 1984, Francis was an original. Those of you who knew him, know why. Those of you who did not, have no idea what a splendid person you missed. Memorials in his name may be made to the Douglas Public Library District, or the Douglas County Land Conservancy.

Wednesday, October 15, 1997

October 15, 1997 - Dad's Death

I have always been a reader, and have always hung around libraries. As a child, I mostly read science books. As a young adult, I mostly read fiction and science fiction. The progression was from fact to speculation, to the collection of human stories and the probing of the possible.

But sometimes the most touching stories come from real life.

For instance, I’ve just returned from my father’s funeral. He died on October 3. On the 11th of this month, he would have been 73.

It happens that although I predicted the day and almost the hour of my father’s death, I wasn’t there. My brother and two sisters were. Throughout that whole day, my father was in very good spirits, smiling, and at one point, laughing.

“What’s so funny?” my sister asked.

“I just saw Jimmy Stewart at the foot of my bed,” he said.

When he died, later that day, it was very easy, very peaceful.

I had gathered up my wife and children and started driving east about half an hour before. When we stopped in Omaha, Nebraska that night, the message light in our hotel room was on. The front desk didn’t know anything about it.

It pleases me to think that Jimmy Stewart was my father’s escort, and that dad did stop long enough to leave me a message.

Here’s another story from the funeral.

My father had an aunt who was just a couple of years older than he was. Her name was “Peg.” By all accounts, Peg had been a very mean and selfish person. By the time of her marriage, she was almost shrewish. But then something unexpected happened. She had a son with Down’s Syndrome, meaning that he was born “disabled.” That son, Tom, changed her life.

The night before my father’s wake, Aunt Peg (now one of the most loving people I know) told me that it was still hard, sometimes, waking up cranky when your son just wouldn’t let you be sad. Tom was happy, every day. He set a high standard.

Tom was also one of the pall-bearers. He made a point, twice on that horrible day, of coming up to me, looking me strong in the eye, and giving me some powerful hugs. Tom, my first cousin once removed, is 45 years old, two years older than I am.

Later that day, I made some comment about “the kids” -- meaning my siblings and me, my whole generation. Tom sat up straight and looked at me. “Not a kid!” he said. “I’m a MAN.”

And Tom told me about how hard he worked at a mail room in Jefferson City, Missouri. He told me with some pride about he was about to move into his own house, and how he planned to cook for himself. And Tom began to impress me more and more as one of the wisest people present, maybe one of the wisest people I’ve ever met. Tom knew what it sometimes takes the funeral of your last parent to tell you: you’re not a kid anymore.

There are people who don’t use libraries who nonetheless are pretty good at reading the human soul. There is a kind of human intelligence that doesn’t show up on the I.Q. tests.

And most important of all, whether it’s a book, a movie star, a father, or a first cousin once removed, sometimes these stories effect extraordinary transformations in our lives, opening our eyes if only for a moment to the height and depth of human possibility.

Wednesday, October 8, 1997

October 8, 1997 - Revaluing Libraries

If I grasp the historic and generational dynamics correctly, all of our public institutions are being “re-valued.” That may sound impressive, but all it means is that society is taking a look at institutions that were unquestioned goods to a previous generation, to see if they still “work.”

It probably started with LBJ’s, then Nixon’s Presidency, a mounting crisis in public confidence. Reagan’s Presidency was an attempt to roll everything back to before the Viet Nam war, and it seemed to work, for awhile. But nowadays, nobody has much faith in either the Presidency or Congress. Regionally, and despite Colorado’s clear history of fiscally conservative government, Douglas Bruce’s “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” was mostly about a profound distrust of government.

More locally still -- although it’s part of a national trend -- is the revaluing of public schools. Crystallizing in the much ballyhooed report, “A Nation at Risk,” all public schools came under close scrutiny. At times, it was more like an attack. What it came down to was a suspicion that something at best inefficient, and at worst conspiratorial, was going on in and around our classrooms. Were the attacks justified? In part, probably so.

But where are we today? A nation with a crumbling public education infrastructure on the one hand, and home schooling, charter schools and vouchers on the other.

I think the public library is the next institution on the list. As a public librarian and as a public servant, it’s important to me to stay ahead of this “re-valuing.” What follows is my attempt to lay out the issues that I see as rallying points for public dissension and/or discourse. I’d be very interested in hearing from my readers about how close, or far off, you think I am about what may start to bother people about the library, and what kind of response makes sense.

These are the issues I think are key:

-The desire for quiet. This concern crosses conservative and liberal lines. More and more of our patrons believe that kids are too loud, parents don't control them, and librarians are too reluctant to shut people up. A growing number of people believe that libraries should be a more hushed and holy place, a little more like we used to be. We need to respond. But how? Signs and shushing? Or the establishment of sections of the library called “reading rooms,” where silence is strictly enforced?

-Parental control. A small minority (at present) wants something like a grid of choices: none of the following types of materials can be checked out by my children. At present, our library doesn’t offer that kind of prohibition of children’s choices. But with our automated systems, the possibility exists that we COULD offer it, at least to some extent. Is that reasonable? Perhaps. We hold parents responsible for the items their children check out. How can we at the same time assert that children can check out what the parents expressly forbid? Yet I still believe libraries must hold to two tenets: (a) no automated system is perfect; mistakes will happen, and (b) kids can still read what they want in the library (because it is both inappropriate and unreasonable to force government employees to look over everybody’s shoulders as they sit quietly in a public place).

-Advocacy. Some folks want libraries to accept the role of sponsorship. They believe we should be actively PROMOTING the "right" views, eschewing all others. On this one, we can not compromise. The answer must be, "Your views have a seat at the table of public discourse. But you do not have the right to silence everybody else at the table." We reflect the offerings of mainstream publishing, in due proportion. We do not, and should not, try to reject those offerings out of hand.

-Internet access. Some people believe that we should impose the standard of what's appropriate for children, on adults as well. Here again is an issue where I believe no compromise is possible. It's perfectly appropriate for libraries to have “filtered” workstations in the children's area — if they think it even makes sense to offer such a thing (I don’t, frankly). But we should tell parents, "Our adult terminals are unfiltered, because filtering cripples them as research tools. If you don't want your children to use these terminals, tell them not to. If your children do anyhow, hold the child accountable, not the library."


Wednesday, October 1, 1997

October 1, 1997 - Shell Shock

Down the street from where I grew up lived Mr. Ingvoldstadt. His son, Roy, was in my class at the nearby elementary school. Roy was very bright, particularly at math. We’ve all had those moments of “I get it!” With Roy, those moments were like the flashing of a huge sword.

But Roy was also very withdrawn. It wasn’t until I got to know him better that I figured out why. There was something painfully hushed at his house, as if everyone were walking on tiptoe. Roy’s mother was a very well-groomed and polite woman, with eyes a little too wide, almost startled. When I caught a glimpse of Roy’s father, he was usually wearing a suit. But there seemed to be long periods when he didn’t work at all. Then he haunted the house, his posture slightly curled, his hands trembling.

It turns out that Mr. Ingvoldstadt suffered from shell shock and battle fatigue. He had, like so many other men in my neighborhood, served in World War II. He had received a medical discharge some 20 years earlier. Obviously, he had never quite recovered.

For years, this image of lasting trauma stayed with me. Then, sometime near the end of high school, I read about a study someone had done on Viet Nam veterans. There was a new round of shell shocked and battle-fatigued soldiers. The study addressed the question: who was most at risk? Was it the basic recruit, the average guy? Or was it more likely to be the “sensitive” types, bright and imaginative?

I didn’t have any doubt: it had to be the bright and imaginative ones. I thought of Mr. Ingvoldstadt.

But I was wrong. This study showed that while anybody could “crack” if driven by circumstance into total adrenalin exhaustion, the imaginative ones stood the best chance of survival. Why? Because when they were lying in their trenches, they were thinking of everything that could go wrong. And when something did go wrong, they were prepared for it. They acted -- when the average guys around them could only react, or crack.

This was a revelation to me. Even in high school, I was lying awake at night trying to figure out, for instance, the 99 ways a particular girl could turn me down for a date, or the worst possible consequence for my failure to get in a school assignment. And I did survive both puberty and public education.

These days, I still fret in the wee hours on occasion, worrying, for instance, about delays in the delivery of a temporary building for the Oakes Mill construction project.

But I’ve learned some things, too. I’ve learned to imagine positive turns of events, so GOOD news doesn’t take me by surprise.

And I’ve learned that imagination and intelligence is not a curse. It’s a blessing. Provided with enough material about the world of possibilities around us -- and here I’m thinking of, for example, a well-stocked library -- we can explore, and day dream, and fantasize, and anticipate all manner of potential situations. So when a crisis does come up, we don’t crack. We have the resources to deal with it.

The world is a dangerous place sometimes. We’ve all met people who were shell shocked by some difficulty, or utterly worn out by a battle that doesn’t seem to end. The world has many walking wounded.

People don’t often think of the public library this way, but coupled with curiosity, it may be the best bet we have as individuals for “emergency preparedness,” a way to stay sane and whole when the odds are against it.

Wednesday, September 24, 1997

September 24, 1997 - Urban legends and Deep Thoughts

Ever since Jan Harold Brunvand came up the phrase “urban legend” (in his book, The Choking Doberman and Other ‘New’ Urban Legends, among others) we’ve all gotten a little savvier about those stories that “really happened” to the now-proverbial FOF (friend of a friend).

The latest incarnation of such legends now fly through the Internet. The most recent case was Kurt Vonnegut’s “graduation speech to the 1997 class of MIT.” I got this at least six times from various friends through e-mail. It began, “Wear sunscreen.” it was quite clever, and I forwarded it to about 100 people myself. Trouble was, Vonnegut didn’t have anything to do with it. The “speech” was actually a column that appeared in the Chicago Tribune, and it was written by a woman.

With that caveat, I pass along the following list of quotes (slightly abridged from the original list). They are ALLEGED to come from “a newspaper contest where entrants ages 4 to 15 were asked to imitate ‘Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey.’” “Deep Thoughts” was a short feature that used to run on Saturday Night Live (and maybe still does, for all I know).

I’ve included them here for two reasons:

1) They’re funny. Funny is good.

2) I’m flying back to Illinois for an occasion that won’t be funny at all, and found it really hard to come up with a column idea this week. So forgive me for not having anything much to say about the library this week (besides recommending a good book, and a good newspaper). Enjoy!

I believe you should live each day as if it is your last, which is why I don't have any clean laundry because, come on, who wants to wash clothes on the last day of their life? --Age 15

Give me the strength to change the things I can, the grace to accept the things I cannot, and a great big bag of money. --Age 13

Democracy is a beautiful thing, except for that part about letting just any old yokel vote. --Age 10

Home is where the house is. --Age 6

I bet living in a nudist colony takes all the fun out of Halloween. --Age 13

For centuries, people thought the moon was made of green cheese. Then the astronauts found that the moon is really a big hard rock. That's what happens to cheese when you leave it out. --Age 6

I once heard the voice of God. It said "Vrrrrmmmmm." Unless it was just a lawn mower. --Age 11

I don't know about you, but I enjoy watching paint dry. I imagine that the wet paint is a big freshwater lake that is the only source of water for some tiny cities by the lake. As the lake gets drier, the population gets more desperate, and sometimes there are water riots. Once there was a big fire and everyone died. --Age 13

As you make your way through this hectic world of ours, set aside a few minutes each day. At the end of the year, you'll have a couple of days saved up. --Age 7
Often, when I am reading a good book, I stop and thank my teacher. That is, I used to, until she got an unlisted number. --Age 15

It would be terrible if the Red Cross Bloodmobile got into an accident. No, wait. That would be good because if anyone needed it, the blood would be right there. --Age 5

Think of the biggest number you can. Now add five. Then, imagine if you had that many Twinkies. Wow, that's five more than the biggest number you could come up with! --Age 6

Wednesday, September 17, 1997

September 17, 1997 Radiant Identities

September 20-27 is what the American Library Association calls “Banned Books Week.” This is the 16th year of its observance.

I think of it like this: libraries try to stay on guard against censorship, much as firefighters keep an eye out for smoke. Banned Books Weeks is a Fire Prevention Week for libraries.

Most of what libraries do, of course, doesn’t involve standing up for unpopular books. I do get somewhere between 5-10 challenges to materials a year (where a challenge can be someone just complaining about how much they disliked a book, or an aggressive push to get me to remove it from our shelves altogether). Some of the complaints I agree with. Some, I don’t. So far, I’ve never removed a book on the basis of such a complaint.

On the other hand, occasionally somebody catches us in a cataloging goof. Often, they recommend titles that give a different view of the subject. We correct the goofs, and add the recommended titles.

From my perspective, challenges make the library’s collection better.

But contrast that sprinkle of challenges with far more positive news about the Douglas Public Library District. In a single year, we add almost 40,000 new items, over 12% of which are direct patron requests.

Moreover, we check out over a million items, a quarter of a million to children. We offer hundreds of programs that result in tens of thousands of visits by parents and their children together. Our reference staff answer countless questions about everything from home repair to homework assignments. That’s a far truer picture of what the library does, and how it is received by this community.

Well, a couple of years ago (September 18, 1995, to be exact), a group called Focus on the Family (a Colorado Springs-based Christian organization active in various political causes) issued a press release that denounced Banned Books Week as “alarmist,” “misleading,” and even “hysterical.” The American Library Association was accused of trying to silence concerned parents by branding them as censors.

Nobody was trying to ban any books! they suggested. That was just ALA propaganda.

It’s two years later. And now, as evidenced in the letters to the editor section of this very paper (September 10, 1997), those same self-styled Christian leaders are pushing a “nationwide movement” to remove books from libraries. The target in Douglas County is something called Radiant Identities. (More about this below.)

The timing is no coincidence. Another organization -- Family Friendly Libraries, which is heartily endorsed by Focus on the Family -- has recently proposed replacing the “negative and divisive” Banned Books Week with a “Family Friendly Libraries Week.”
And what is a family friendly library? Why, (among other things) it’s a library that bans books!

Frankly, I find all this a little frustrating. There’s not much conservative radio commentary about the thousands of dollars of materials public libraries purchase from Focus on the Family and other Christian publishers, or the many truly “family friendly” services I described above.

Instead, we get a call to the public to “draw the line” at (i.e. “remove”) a book called Radiant Identities, by critically acclaimed photographer Jock Sturges.

This book, which we have owned since 1995 and has been checked out and returned without comment several times, does have a theme some will find disturbing.

The subject of the black and white photographs is “emergent sexuality.” Most of the photographs were taken on nudist beaches in Northern California and France. Most of the models are young women, transfixed by film in that all-too-brief moment between childhood and maturity.

While the girls and women are (usually) nude, the pictures, in my judgment, arouse not lust, but a kind of wistfulness. They portray the unconscious beauty, the true “radiance” of these young women.
It’s worth noting that the models (and the models’ parents) all gave express permission for the use of these photographs.

Incidentally, the book also includes some of their comments on the experience of being photographed, and what they see in the pictures.

Sturges is a serious craftsman, an artist who has done something artists are good at: discovering beauty while at the same confronting one of the neuroses of our society.

In these United States of America, we have thoroughly eroticized (and commercialized) the female body, using the subtext of sex to sell everything from shampoo to stockings. At the same time we learn that young women are reaching puberty some two to three years earlier than ever before, the debate rages about how to shove that emergent sexuality back into unconsciousness, to wall it off somehow.

School uniforms with longer hemlines? All-girl schools? Sex education that focuses only on abstinence? Teen marriage?

In short, Sturges’ photographs aren’t just controversial because they expose human skin. They actually make you think. As I understand it, that’s just the kind of situation Banned Books Week was designed to highlight.

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” - Supreme Court Justice William Brennan, in Texas v. Johnson

Wednesday, September 10, 1997

September 10, 1997 - Oakes Mill Cooling

I have a friend back east who loved old houses. She and her husband bought a rambling old three story farmhouse in an older neighborhood. Over almost 20 years, they wallpapered, and refinished, and repainted, and rebuilt. And when she finally got it just the way she wanted it -- she sold it.


Well, it was complex. The children had grown up. She wanted more outlets and closet space. She wanted a modern kitchen. The character of the neighborhood was changing in a way that was more commercial, less comfortable. So she bought a nice new house, into which she busily packed her Victorian furniture.

Along the way she got the usual gifts that attend a house-warming . But on the last night of the move, she realized that she needed something else. She needed a house-cooling.

So she invited some dozen of her closest friends over to the now almost empty farmhouse. We filled our glasses with a suitably nostalgic wine, then wandered from room to room. She and her husband told at least one story about something that had happened in each room (plus a few stairway stories, and one involving a broom closet).

By the end of the evening, we were all pleasantly tearful and sentimental. It’s good to say goodbye sometimes.

Well, as the patrons of our Oakes Mill Library are aware, but the rest of you may not be, we’ll soon be saying goodbye to the little 3,000 square foot building that launched library services in the northwestern quadrant of Douglas County.

Within a month or so, we hope to have set up a temporary structure at the same site. Library services will continue while the construction work goes on. Then, we’ll tear down the existing building, and start construction on a new, 10,000 square foot building. The new building will be all on one level, a beguiling combination of ceramic brick, stucco, and glass, with far more natural light, and a more conscious view of its surroundings.

The new community meeting room will receive greater pride of place. The building will more easily accommodate Internet workstations. We’ll have more tables and chairs and shelf space. We’ll have a new reference desk, and an expanded children’s area.

By spring of next year, we’ll be inviting all of you to say hello to the spanking new Oakes Mill Library.

But before we say hello, it’s time to say goodbye.

The “Goodbye to the Old Oakes Mill Building Party” will take place on Friday evening, September 12, at 7 p.m. Bring your family (and camera) to take a last look around. The entertainment for the evening will be a lively puppet show, written and performed by Oakes Mill staff. Following the puppet show we will host a dessert potluck. We will provide plates, forks and napkins. You are welcome to bring a dessert (although we’ll also have some extra goodies on hand).

Please join us as we toast the successes and special moments of a library about to pass into history.

Wednesday, September 3, 1997

September 3, 1997 - Sybil Downing Signing

On Thursday, September 4, from 7-9 p.m., Sybil Downing will speak at the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. The event is sponsored by Hooked on Books.

It happens that I’ve met Ms. Downing several times. In 1994, she served as the Chairwoman of the Colorado State Board of Education. I knew she had a keen interest in libraries. What I didn’t know was that she used libraries a great deal, churning research into first class historical fiction and non-fiction.

A fourth-generation Coloradan, Ms. Downing grew up hearing stories about her great-grandfather, Tom Patterson. “After awhile,” she told me, “you wonder how much of all that is fiction and how much is fact.”

So she started digging. “This may sound strange,” she said, “but I have always felt since I was a little girl that I had a psychic connection with grandfather. He died long before I was born. But if we’d had a chance to get to know each other, we would have been on the same wavelength.”

This research led to increasing admiration, then to a book: Tom Patterson: Colorado Crusader for Change, which she wrote with Robert E. Smith. Patterson bought the Rocky Mountain News in 1892, and held it to 1914. After that he bought the Denver Times, which was “an old republican newspaper.” Downing says, “Patterson was a staunch democrat, and I think he really enjoyed stirring people up.”

There were two more result of all this research. First, “his whole love of the American West -- I absorbed that.” Second, as any librarian can tell you, “one thing leads to another.”

It turns out that Patterson, who had served as attorney for union leaders, but “was also a man of means and therefore acceptable to the kind of men who owned the coal mines,” was asked by the governor of Colorado to mediate the dispute that we now know as the Ludlow Massacre. Obviously, Patterson failed.

Her next book, a novel Fire in the Hole (which won this year’s Colorado Author’s League award for outstanding fiction) explored the rest of the story. The lead character is a woman attorney who seeks justice.

The Patterson biography also lead her to some research about one of his early partners. She managed to track down a book written by the partner’s son. The first two chapters told Downing just what she wanted to know. But “by the third chapter, the book was suddenly all about life in Goldfield, Nevada during the gold strike. Then the author began talking about a ladies stock exchange, formed when the men wouldn’t let them participate. The back of the book included a 1907 Los Angeles Times article about how hysterically funny it was that a group of woman would even try to start a mining stock exchange. I thought, this would make a wonderful story! “

The rest, as they say, is history. Downing’s latest book is called Ladies of the Goldfield Stock Exchange. Incidentally, Downing reports that the Goldfield exchange was one of just two mining stock exchanges ever founded by women in the country. The first was in Colorado Springs in 1896.

Downing will not only be signing copies of this book on September 4 (copies will be available for purchase), but she will also talk about another passion: the Women Writing the West.

It started when she saw the report of a survey in which 1 out of 4 people in America (many of them professional women between the ages of 28 and 45) said they considered themselves western enthusiasts -- not just for traditional westerns, but historical fiction. Next, Downing and another author followed the success of a marketing group called “Sisters In Crime,” formed by Sara Paretsky and other female mystery writers who didn’t feel publishers were really pushing their works.

Both these things, said Downing, “gave us courage.”

Three years later, Women Writing the West has over 500 members across several countries. Their members focus on the marketing of what they call “the real women’s west” -- intelligent, well-researched historical fiction that features strong female protagonists.

A portion of the sales of Ladies of the Goldfield Stock Exchange at the September 4 event will benefit the Douglas Public Library District’s Local History Collection.

Wednesday, August 27, 1997

August 27, 1997 - Circle Game - Art and DPLD

It was altogether fitting that on the day the library celebrated its 30th anniversary (last Saturday), I had the opportunity to meet with Jay Mead. Jay's mother was the woman I consider the mother of our libraries -- Genevieve (Nicky) Mead. Jay and his wife Carol had brought with them one Joyce Newman.

Ms. Newman, an artist who now lives in Pasadena, California, was a good friend of Nicky's. Ms. Newman is also the artist of the ceramic sculpture that lives outside the southeast corner of the Philip S. Miller Library in Castle Rock. Called "The Circle Game," this piece was made in 1970, and paid for by Lee Stubblefield, the dashing developer of Perry Park (who since dashed off, I'm told, just ahead of some broken promises).

I've lived around "The Circle Game" some 7 years now, and have had the pleasure of watching both of my children discover it. The art piece works on several levels. One level is much like the Joni Mitchell song after which it is named: it's an abstraction of people holding hands and dancing in a circle. To my kids it's "the castle." To me, it's a red rock formation, a kind of miniature cliff dwelling.

As someone with no artistic ability whatsoever, I am awed by the ability of artists to do things like this: to create masses of clay that conjure up whole universes of feeling.

Ms. Newman told me that she had just completed a model of the Circle Game when Nicky told her, "That's just what we need! May I take this to a library meeting tonight?" The Circle Game wound up at the dedication of the first Castle Rock Library on Gilbert Street.

The Circle Game is not the only piece of art to find its way into our libraries. Our Parker Library has a ceiling mural over the children's room, and whimsical paintings in the children's storytelling room. It also has ever-changing displays of the work of local artists. Our Highlands Ranch Library has a mural on the wall separating the children's room at the community meeting room. The Philip S. Miller Library has a mural by local high school students in its children's area. Recently, our Louviers Library was presented with a beautiful drawing of the library itself. All of our libraries, at various points of the year, display the creative work of local children.

But the Circle Game was surely the first piece of art to join us.

After Nicky Mead's death, the library established a memorial fund. At this point, it's worth roughly $1,000. The library also has a Foundation, and a bequest from Philip S. Miller. Over the past several months, we have been talking with the Meads to find an appropriate memorial to the woman whose vision and energy called our library forth.

Here's what we've come up with. Ms. Newman is intrigued by the notion of making a companion piece to the Circle Game. The Meads are particularly interested in some kind of fountain. (Library focus groups consistently tell us that one of the things they would like to hear in our libraries is the sound of running water.)

We expect to be doing some work on the Philip S. Miller Library in a year or so anyhow. We'll try to coordinate Ms. Newman's work - both old and new - into the design. Somehow I know that Nicky and Phil Miller (he's the father of our library) would have liked that.

To participate in this project, please address your checks to the Genevieve Mead Memorial Fund, care of the Douglas Public Library Foundation, 961 S Plum Creek Blvd, Castle Rock CO 80104.

Wednesday, August 20, 1997

August 20, 1997 - Staff Day

On Friday, August 22, all Douglas Public Library District Libraries will be closed. This will be our fifth annual Staff Day.

Why is it necessary to close the whole library district? Mainly because this is the only way we can get our 150 employees or so into the same room at the same time. Once a year, an "all staff" assembly helps to re-center us on the things we must have in common if we are to survive as a responsive public institution.

In general, the library is a very decentralized operation. Each library location has its own unique collection. (At least 12 percent of that collection is the result of direct patron requests for purchase.) Each library divides staff responsibilities according to its needs and the talents of various staff members. The hope behind such a structure is that the branch will be more tightly focused on its own community. Castle Rock is not like Parker, which is not like Highlands Ranch, which is not like the service populations of Acres Green and Lone Tree, which is not like Louviers. The libraries should reflect those differences. And they do.

But most important in this conscious decentralization is the idea that at the moment of truth -- an encounter between a member of the public and the member of our staff -- the staff member has the knowledge and the authority to do the right thing. The "right thing" means "to provide the best possible service." She shouldn't have to scurry behind an imposing desk because she doesn't quite know what to do. She shouldn't have to fumble around for permission from some distant supervisor. On behalf of the patron, she should be able to act, and know that the library values her knowledge, her initiative, and her creativity.

At our first Staff Day, the library highlighted the need for more intensive instruction in our computer systems. That instruction is now a key part of each new employee's orientation. Last year's Staff Day focused on employee reports on a handful of key long range planning issues (personnel, collection, new services, automation, and information needs about the environment in which we operate). Those reports have marked a trail for many changes in the way we do, or will do, business.

Most of our Staff Days have featured a keynote address from someone prominent in the library world. This year is a little different. This year I see that instead of bringing in people to teach us, we're teaching ourselves. The focus of the many workshops throughout the day is to strengthen the lines of communication among people who do similar work at different locations within the district. Thus we have people who provide story times getting together to compare notes. We have people interested in providing public programming to seniors or to young adults, sitting down to brainstorm ideas and share past experiences.

We have presentations by our people on what reference service really looks like at the front desk, and how new materials are ordered and processed. Staff members will have a chance to talk with members of our Board of Trustees, and with the architect of our new Oakes Mill Library (slated to open in the Spring of 1998).

I apologize for any inconvenience for those folks who had hoped to go to the library on the 22nd. But I do believe that this withdrawal of service for one day is an investment in better service for all the days to come. The library will be open as usual on Saturday.

Thanks for your understanding.

Wednesday, August 13, 1997

August 13, 1997 - The World in 1967

I have before me a book called The World in 1967, by the writers, photographers and editors of the Associated Press. The Foreward to the book states, "Certainly 1967 ... made more news than any other year since World War II."

Here's a sample:

January. Jack Ruby, assassin of Lee Harvey Oswald, dies in prison. Three American astronauts (Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, Edward White) die trapped in a spacecraft fire, just before launch.

Timothy Leary tells 15,000 "youngsters," "Turn on to the scene; tune into what's happening; and drop out -- of high school, college, grad school ... and follow me." Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, is convicted of 13 acts of homicide over an 18 month period.

February. Newspapers report evidence of CIA infiltration and subversion of various student organizations over the past 15 years, which "used students to spy."

March. Jimmy Hoffa goes to prison, convicted of accepting a $1 million payoff from a trucking firm to assure labor peace. In prison, he gets a job in the laundry for $5.60 an hour -- the average minimum of his union (the International Brotherhood of Teamsters) is then $3.50 per hour.

The supertanker Torrey Canyon rams into the Seven Stones, a reef near the southwest tip of England: the first big oil spill.

April. The daughter of Stalin, Svetlana, defects to the West. Cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies in space.

Richard Speck is found guilty of the murder of eight women in a Chicago student nursing dormitory.

May. Elvis Presley (32) weds Priscilla Beaulieu (21). Justice Thurgood Marshall is appointed to the Supreme Court.

July. The beginning of "the longest summer." Racial violence occurs in 114 communities in 32 states. At least 88 people die, 4,000 are injured, and more than 12,000 arrested. Damage is estimated well into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

A report by the U.S. Public Health Service states that cigarette smoking has a significant relationship to the incidence of various types of cancer, lung ailments and heart disease. The findings are hotly contested by the tobacco industry.

The "Red Guard" in China continues its reign of terror, part of the so-called "Cultural Revolution."

It's the "summer of love" in San Francisco. The amphetamine "methedrine" is introduced. The rumor that "smoking bananas can get you high" is exposed as a hoax: an attempt to get the Federal Food and Drug Administration to outlaw a fruit.

September. Two million children do not start school due to widespread teacher strikes. Hurricane Beulah hits Corpus Christi.

November. United Auto Workers win a Ford contract that sets precedents in labor negotiations: a dollar an hour increase in wages and fringe benefits (to $5.70 an hour), a significant increase in unemployment benefits, and an increase in pensions.

December. The first heart transplant.

Throughout the year, there were many stories connected to Viet Nam: a march on Washington here, and in Viet Nam, 24,000 civilian deaths, versus 19,000 deaths of American and South Vietnamese soldiers. Mohammed Ali is convicted of draft evasion (he sought conscientious objector status as a Muslim priest).

And in less serious news, Twiggy (5 foot 6 inches, 91 pounds) is hailed as the new fashion ideal. Five hundred people hold a "Fat-In" protest at New York's Central Park. Their motto: "Help cure emaciation: take a fat girl to dinner."

Some motion pictures of the year: A Man for all Seasons, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Bonnie and Clyde.

Some Grammy Award winning songs: "Strangers in the Night," by Frank Sinatra; "Winchester Cathedral" by the New Vaudeville Band; "Eleanor Rigby," by the Beatles; "Monday, Monday," by the Mamas and the Papas. Best female vocal performance: Eydie Gorme's "If He Walked into My Life."

Against this backdrop: the Douglas County Public Library begins its first year of operations.

And that's the news from 30 years ago.

Wednesday, August 6, 1997

August 6, 1997 - Long-lived Companies

As I wrote a few weeks ago, independent booksellers are facing some big challenges, chiefly the aggressive expansion of big retail bookstores. But recently, I’ve talked to several people who have predicted to me that while such expansions make money now (mostly by driving up stock prices), the prospects aren’t good over the long haul.

Why? Nationally, as I have written before, the market for readers -- while very good along the Front Range generally -- is fairly stable. That is, just because there are a lot more places to buy books doesn’t mean more people are buying books. It just means that more businesses are competing for the same number of sales.

In some respects, the consumer benefits by this competition. The discounts go up. But again, only the larger stores can consistently afford to operate with less of a profit margin -- and that’s only if they can also be confident of a high volume of sales AND a certain narrowing of what’s offered.

But if the market isn’t all that good for expansion of bookstores, why are there so many new bookstores? According to a local appraiser, “There’s too much capital.” Money is cheap.

I don’t pretend to be either an economist or a fortuneteller. As a librarian, I’m mostly pretty happy to see more books in the area. While I have a preference for the independents, and have some real concerns about their survival, I recognize that places like Borders or Barnes and Noble’s not only offer some great bargains, they can provide local versions of the “great good place” -- interesting spots to hang out and talk to people. Such places tend to knit a community together.

Likewise, the bookstores that also offer traditional library-type events -- children’s story times, book clubs, and the like -- generally raise the appreciation of literacy in a community. That’s all to the good.

But I recently ran across an article about long-lived companies, and why they last. (It also pointed out that long-lived companies tend to outperform America’s stock market by a factor or 15 since 1926.) According to the article (appearing in the May 10, 1997 issue of the Economist), long-lived companies share four traits:

-financial conservatism. They rarely borrowed money. Instead, they saved or invested it, then paid cash.

-sensitivity to the world around them. When the business or social climate changed, they changed, too.

-cohesion. Members of the companies saw themselves as belonging to an internal community with a history and a core philosophy, even a sense of mission.

-tolerance. This is the delicate balancing act. There needs to be a sense of corporate identity -- but there must also be some acceptance of divergent behavior within the company. A strict corporate hierarchy tends to stifle sensitivity, for instance.

The article begins, “For most firms, life is nasty, brutish and short. The life expectancy of a typical multinational is between 40 and 50 years, which means that of all the companies now featured in America’s Fortune 500, about one-third will have merged, been broken up or gone bust by 2010.” That’s not a pretty picture.

While I like to think the Douglas Public Library District works hard to fit this profile of a long-lived company, the truth is that we are sheltered from many business pressures. Even if every bookstores in the county does overextend itself, then go bust, the library will still be here. On the other hand, we won’t be making the sort of profits or personal fortunes of a company like Microsoft.

It just might be that such public institutions as the public library serve as something of a necessary counter-weight to the “nasty, brutish and short” existence of too many business ventures. We provide some continuity and stability in times of upheaval.

And it might be too, that more businesses need to adopt a longer perspective.

Wednesday, July 30, 1997

July 30, 1997 - US West Problems Resolved

I think of myself as a patient man. For the past five years, the Douglas Public Library District has quietly gone about connecting itself to the Internet, designing web pages, developing useful local information, securing access to public and private databases, and budgeting the resources to keep it all working.

The last task before we brought up our new graphical, Internet workstations (for both Castle Rock and Parker - Oakes Mill and Highlands Ranch are scheduled for next year) was to get a key T-1 data line installed. And this is where my patience was strained: we waited two months past our scheduled installation date to get the final line in. For 60 days, we’ve been sitting on boxes of equipment that was useless until the line was in place. It took a couple hundred phone calls, a formal complaint to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, and a fax to the president of US West to get the 45 minutes of attention that it took to solve the problem.

Of course, I recognize that the Douglas Public Library District is a bit player in this market. We only spend some $36,000 a year on phone services and telecommunications lines. Not that I’m bitter.

But what’s past is past. Our workstations should be up in a week or so, fulfilling our commitment to free public access to this new information resource.

During the long delay, however, an important Supreme Court decision was made. In brief, the Communications Decency Act (part of the 1996 telecommunications act) was struck down as unconstitutional. This act would have made almost any Internet transmission of “indecent” material (including language or images not appropriate to a child) both illegal, and subject to stiff penalties.

The American Library Association was the lead plaintiff in this case, arguing that the same First Amendment protections extended to printed material should apply to this new electronic medium. The argument prevailed. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens quoted an earlier Court statement: “[R]egardless of the strength of the government's interest" in protecting children, "[t]he level of discourse reaching a mailbox simply cannot be limited to that which would be suitable for a sandbox."

But librarians also recognize that a “hands off!” attitude doesn’t do much to allay the valid concerns of some parents. There is indeed a lot of offensive and age-inappropriate material on the Internet. If sweeping government intervention isn’t the right answer, and if filtering software poses problems as bad as the problem it purports to solve (see previous columns), then what’s left?

Well, the American Library Association has a useful contribution. It’s an online document called, “Librarian's Guide to Cyberspace for Parents and Kids.” This document defines some Internet terms, provides some “safety tips” for kids on the Internet, and talks a little about how to determine whether an Internet site provides reliable information. Best of all is the intriguing collection of 50+ web sites that are not only appropriate for children, but highlight just how exciting this technology can be for young learners.

This link will appear prominently on the home page of the library. Parents, look for it. Or if you have web access from her, bookmark the site at http://www.ssdesign.com/parentspage/greatsites/.

As I’ve written many times, the World Wide Web is a relatively small part of what a library offers. But here too, the traditional skills of librarianship - the gathering and organization of data - can still be usefully applied.

Now that we’ve got our data line problem resolved, we’ll be happy to show you what we mean.

Wednesday, July 23, 1997

July 23, 1997 - Mother/Daughter Book Clubs

My daughter Maddy and her best friend, Andee, are 9 years old. They like to read, which certainly pleases me. Mostly, they like Nancy Drew stories.

Here I confess something I would never have admitted were it not for the courageous example of Phil, Andee’s dad. Yes, I have picked up the occasional Nancy Drew story myself.

There are several runs of Nancy Drew books. The Douglas Public Library has 249 titles, falling into the Nancy Drew Notebooks, the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, and the Nancy Drew Files. The originals were written by one Carolyn Keene. It was actually a pseudonym for Edward Stratemeyer, who also wrote the Hardy Boys. Later, Stratemeyer’s daughter took over. Later still the books were written by many different people.

And you know what? They’re not bad. What I like about Nancy Drew is that she’s so darn plucky. Although all the series have their own characteristics, one thing doesn’t change. Nancy is an explorer, a doer.

Frankly, there aren’t as many literary role models for girls as there ought to be.

My wife raised this issue a few months ago. Maddy was looking for more good books. But most of the “favorite books for young people” lists feature titles that are mainly about boys. I hope it will come as no surprise that girls prefer to read about main characters that are girls.

As Suzanne (my wife) got to digging around, she ran across other mothers of young girls who were looking for good girl’s books. And Suzanne began to hear about something else. As girls get older, they tend to talk more to each other than to their mothers. This happens just as their mothers find their daughter’s conversation more interesting than ever.

Aside from simply missing their daughters, many of these mothers also had both academic and psychological concerns. Several studies by the Association of University Women have shown that schools tend to encourage a habit of silence among girls, to discourage the sort of questioning and participative behavior that might label them as “brains.” Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls talks about the need to give young girls a sense of belonging and challenge if they are to grow into healthy adults.

It all adds up to a daunting set of challenges for mothers and their daughters.

Well, here’s the best advice my wife ran across. Form a mother-daughter book club. A good place to start is The Mother-Daughter Book Club: How Ten Busy Mothers and Daughters Came Together to Talk, Laugh and Learn Through Their Love of Reading. Author Shireen Dodson shares her insights on how to get a club going, how to find and read books, how to structure and lead groups, how to maintain lively discussions, and more. The book is sprinkled through with solid lists of recommended books good for various ages.

It’s clear throughout Dodson’s wise and engaging book that she has enormous respect for the power of print. But even more important is the value of reading as a way to bridge the generation gap, as an opportunity to allow mothers and daughters to find their way to each other, to live within a dialogue that is about more than keeping a room clean.

This isn’t to suggest that only moms can help their daughters. Phil and I have been talking about forming another group, a Fathers Who Read Nancy Drew Support Group. Who’s with us?

Wednesday, July 16, 1997

July 16, 1997 - the technology curve

(Lately, I've talked to a lot of business people who came to the library to try to figure out how to position themselves to take advantage of the Internet. This column takes some of what I've learned about what I call the "arc of technology," and refocuses it to the small business person.)

Like many businesses, you scrambled to get on the World Wide Web. You signed up with an Internet Service Provider. You either taught yourself HTML (Hyper-Text Markup Language) or paid somebody else to build a web page for you. You downloaded all kinds of Internet utilities: editors, image converters, file transfer programs, etc.

And when you were all done, you looked around and asked yourself: "When do I start making money?"

You're not alone. Like most of the people now on the World Wide Web, you're on the wrong side of the technology curve.

Picture a bell curve. The vertical axis is money--your money. The horizontal access is time. All technology follows this curve. At the early part of the cycle (the uphill part of the curve), businesses spend money. At the top, they start to break even. On the downhill slope, the technology finally becomes profitable.

This model works for almost any new technology.

Consider the automobile. At first, there was a lot of experimentation. Nobody quite knew what cars would be used for: family outings? Farm work? Some automobiles were steered by reins, as if automobiles were horses. Others used sticks, like the rudders on boats. And how to stop a car? Hand brakes?

This lack of standardization, of an agreed upon ÒinterfaceÓ for controlling the new vehicle, made it hard to make money. Who knew just what kind of technology was going to catch on? Gearing up for production was risky.

Add to this another factor: there were no paved roads!

Finally, largely through the work of Henry Ford, things began to settle down. You would use a steering wheel. The accelerator would be on the floor, pressed by your right foot. The brake would be another foot pedal, on the far left.

At about this time, some of the great road building projects began: a paved strip in Kansas City. Scenic drives. Two lane roads.

Standardized design and sufficient infrastructure: it's the top of the technology curve. For the automobile, only then did the business possibilities open up: everything from race cars to tractors to drive-ins to suburban malls.

Right now, being on the web is the same kind of risky business as non-standard automobiles. Is the World Wide Web an educational medium, useful primarily for research? Or it is a communication medium, an environment for group discussion and cooperative activity?

Or is the Web an advertising medium?--a sort of public bulletin board for catchy page layouts? Or is it a commercial medium, a place where customers build products out of your inventory, place orders and track shipments? I would argue that right now, the only people who ARE making money on the web are the people selling web design services, not the people buying them.

If history is any guide, at least three things have to happen before all that comes clear. First, the interface of the Web needs to stabilize. Right now, the interface battle is between Microsoft and Netscape, although many of the basics of Web-surfing have already been resolved.

Second, the infrastructure--the paved roads of the Information Highway--need to be built. That's happening pretty fast, too.

Third, and most important, there needs to be a way to ensure secure business transactions: a way to know that the order came from a real person, and that this real person's money actually makes it to your business's bank account. Various encryption schemes--software that sets up a conversation that only two people can decode (the seller and the buyer) are just about set, too.

My advice? Now's the time to be looking at your internal databases (of products and services), and getting them ready to talk to the web. The real potential of the Internet as a business medium is not advertising, but rather the manipulation of inventory to design customized products, and to more closely direct and monitor their delivery. For instance, the customer might select paper stock and fonts for a big print job, or mix and match options for a new automobile.

In short, though we're still this side of technology curve, the bubble is just ahead of us. It will pay to get ready for it.

Wednesday, July 9, 1997

July 9, 1997 - More Books Needed

By almost any measure, the Douglas Public Library District is doing a pretty good job. The use of our collection goes up every year (year to date, we’re almost 10% over last year, which was our all-time high). Every year, we get more children at our story hours. We get more reference questions.

But my bosses, the seven Trustees of the Douglas Public Library District, expressed a concern to me. They wanted to see more new materials.

I pointed out to them that we already spent 16% of our operations costs on materials. Most libraries in Colorado spend 12% or less. I pointed out to them that over 12% of our book budget results from direct patron requests (patrons fill out a request form, and in most cases, we put it through). Our nearest competitor only spends 9% on direct patron requests—most public libraries spend less than 5 percent. I pointed out to the Board that since 1990, the number of our holdings has jumped by over 275 percent, a VERY unusual statistic.

Then I took a look at some other numbers. Here’s the chart:

Year Holdings Holdings per capita
1989 65,000 1.15
1990 100,000 1.66
1991 134,734 2.08
1992 165,003 2.38
1993 186,909 2.35
1994 208,885 2.30
1995 226,763 2.29
1996 243,832 1.98

What does it mean? “Holdings” is the total number of items we own. Those numbers all look pretty good. “Per capita” is where the problem is. It divides the number of holdings by the number of people in the county. So sure, we have more stuff than we used to. But our population is growing faster than our collection. On a PER PERSON basis, we actually have fewer materials this year than last.

Let me put it another way. My Board was right. We need to buy more new materials.

But that’s a tricky issue. The number of new materials drives a lot of things. Most obviously, if affects how many people we need to order, receive, catalog and otherwise physically prepare the items. It affects how much we spend on supplies. It affects how many boxes go through the courier. It affects how many shelves we need at each location.

On the other hand, what the Board really wanted to address was the selection of materials in the new books area. Most of our new books are checked out. If we buy more books, they may still be checked out—but the odds of your finding something new are nonetheless better.

So what are we going to do about it? We’re going to dip into some of our contingency money to increase the book budget—up to 20% of our operating budget. We’re experimenting with some flexible staffing patterns to try to move more books.

The downside? Books are moving a little slower. Partly that’s just getting used to managing a larger work flow, and working around some space limitations in our behind-the-scenes “technical services” area. We’re keeping an eye on that.

The upside? In a few weeks, we hope you’ll be able to see a better selection than ever. We’re going to keep at this process until we find a way to get back on top of the “per capita” problem, and stay there.

And next time you see a library board member, thank him or her for looking out for your interests.

Wednesday, July 2, 1997

July 2, 1997 - Literacy and Democracy

Two days from today we celebrate Independence Day. July 4, 1776 is the birthday of the United States of America, the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress.

The notion of a free and independent people is based on something most people don’t think much about: the ability to read. The idea of an “informed citizenry” is sprinkled throughout our founders’ writings. Remember that these were the days before television and radio. To be informed, one had to be a close follower of newspapers and political pamphlets, the format for political discourse in 1776.

You might ask if anybody today forms political opinions based primarily on written materials. But you might not be thrilled by the answer.

Despite technological advances, more than 200 years after the founding of this country, the best information about our local, state, national, and international affairs is still predicated on the written word. Newspapers and magazines give far more comprehensive and thoughtful coverage of issues than the sound bites of TV or radio.

But just suppose that you can’t read. The best estimates suggest that as many as one fourth of the American populace can’t decipher a newspaper headline, much less the story beneath it. They can’t read the label on a soup can. They can’t read the instructions on a prescription.

Let’s be blunt. Perhaps 25% of our adult citizenry is illiterate. It may not be quite that high in Douglas County. But it’s probably at least 10%. Such rates are more than a shame. They’re an early warning sign of civic breakdown.

It was just this year that the Douglas Public Library District established its own adult literary program. Some of our students and tutors we carried over from the now-defunct Adult Center for Teaching (ACT) and (as it was later known) the Center for Adult Literacy and Learning or CALL. But many of our current students have discovered the program just this year.

Adult education falls into three areas: Adult Basic Education (English-speaking folks who are just beginning to learn to read), G.E.D. students (people working on their high school equivalency certificate), and English as a Second Language (people who may be literate in their own native language, but have yet to learn English). ESL students are among our more problematic. Our tutor program is volunteer-based. Right now we have the greatest need for tutors who can speak either Spanish or Chinese.

Penny Perkins, Literacy Coordinator for the district, will be holding tutor training sessions on July 26 (an overview of our general adult literacy program) and on August 2 (a discussion of basic literacy and ESL in the morning, and GED in the afternoon).

If you know of someone in need of our program, please urge that person to give us a call. The one-on-one tutoring service is both free and confidential.

Or if you would like to assist another human being to master the fundamental skill of literacy, here’s the deal: you give a minimum of an hour a week, for at least 6 months. Training and materials are provided at no cost.

What do you get in return? Speaking as a former tutor myself, you get paid twice: once in the appreciation of just how subtle and powerful our written language can be, and again through the thrill of transmitting this vital civic and personal skill to another. Again, our tutors are all volunteers.

Students and trainers both should call 841-6942.

Reading: it’s the American way.

Wednesday, June 25, 1997

June 25, 1997 - Booksellers

Maren Francis is the owner of Hooked on Books, an independent bookstore in Castle Rock. She also happens to be a member of my library board. Maren just got back from a big conference of the American Booksellers Association, and shared some of her insights with me about trends in the book business.

The main issue among booksellers these days is the rise of such big chain stores as Borders, and Barnes and Noble. For consumers, this certainly looks like a good deal: the big chains offer big discounts.

But (at least until recently), those big consumer discounts were made possible by big publisher discounts. Moreover, these discounts were not available to the independent booksellers. Then, a couple of years ago, the independents sued the publishers for more equitable treatment. They won.

But the publishers haven’t forgiven them. And the independents still tend to get stuck with shipping charges that don’t get billed to the chains.

Booksellers operate on pretty slim margins. Many independents are down to about 1% over their costs. Publisher discounts and shipping charges can make or break them. So the basic situation hasn’t changed: when the chain bookstores come in, many independent booksellers go out of business.

Here’s another wrinkle. Some book publishers actually pay the chain stores to feature the titles of certain authors, much as soft drink companies pay grocery stores for prime space at the end of an aisle. So for the discount chains, displays mean “advertising.”

“But they don’t pay me to do that,” Maren told me. Independents tend to build their book displays based on what either the local public has gone for, or what the store workers found of literary merit. So displays mean “good books.” Maren said, “I would love to see some of these authors get a wider audience.”

There’s another challenge. “When I walked onto the floor of the conference,” Maren said, “all the row markers -- huge overhead banners -- said ‘amazon.com.’” amazon.com is an Internet-based bookstore. For those folks with Internet access, amazon.com offers great discounts, no doubt because its overhead is so low (smaller staff, no retail rents, no warehousing costs). (Note: Denver’s own Tattered Cover is also on the Internet at www.tatteredcover.com. And other booksellers probably won’t be far behind.)

Some librarians express the concern that bookstores, the Internet, and libraries are competitors. Maren and I don’t see it that way. Each serves its purpose, has its niche. Generally speaking, the more all of us promote books and reading, the more of a market we have. People who like books use the public library for some things, and bookstores for others.

On the other hand, despite the rapid growth of the chain stores the overall purchasing of books has remained relatively flat throughout the United States. In other words, the rise of the chains and “virtual bookstores” has not resulted in a larger market for booksellers, merely a more fragmented one.

A more pernicious influence of this competition is that mainstream publishers are making bigger but fewer deals. That is, they look for blockbusters: bestsellers that go straight to movie options. The big advances and hype mean that publishers have less time and money to look for more purely literary books. The result is a shallower catalog of offerings, a market place of more glitz, but less substance.

I asked Maren what so many people ask me: “Will the book survive?” She thought it would. “In a time when our lives are more frenetic, people turn to books because they offer a reduction of stimuli.” Because of this, she suggested, some of the chains won’t survive either; their very busy-ness will work against them.

Yet Maren observed, “The perceived value of books is much lower than it was a few years ago. Consider how you feel about a book you see stacked in huge numbers with a sign announcing 30% discount. Compare that to how you feel about a book you find in a hand picked display, lovingly arranged and reflecting the taste of a bookseller whose instincts you trust.”

Maren is right that, “Any bookseller has to offer something special.” For some of us, it’s the best price. For others, it’s warm, personal service. For all of us who love books, it’s an interesting time.